On Wednesday morning Nia Cherrington was a lone voice, stepping down as Marist College’s cultural leader following claims her teachers tore down Black Lives Matter posters she’d put up around the school.
By the afternoon, the Year 13 student was joined by a chorus of her peers, voicing their concerns about alleged systemic racism at the Catholic girls’ college.
Nia and her mother Ani said the students were told off for putting up “Black Lives Matter” posters despite earlier being told it was fine. Those posters were later torn down by staff, Nia said.
Ani has since laid a complaint with the Board of Trustees who met to discuss the matter on Wednesday evening.
“We are such a multicultured school and we have so many girls who believe so strongly in this issue,” Nia told Checkpoint.
“I think one of the most upsetting things is the way it’s been handled. We’ve had so many mixed messages, we’ve had people tell us they love the posters, and then they’re ripping them down.
“I also think it’s tough when you are getting told one thing and the actions are representing something totally different.
“They have placed their value of property and rules over how we actually feel and what we believe is important.
“We had some posters, addressing the Black Lives Matter movement. They just said ‘Black Lives Matter, No Justice, No Peace’.
“We also had posters promoting an anti-racist environment… we also had Bible scriptures preaching about love and acceptance, which is something that we value very much,” Nia said.
“We just want to be heard. We have initiatives, we’ve put these forward and we just want them to be listened to and we want them to be inputted in our school. We want to see them come to life.
“I think it’s really important for us to leave our mark on the school – something positive, something we can be proud of.
“We want our initiatives to be heard and we also want our girls at Marist to feel accepted and loved for who they are, and they shouldn’t have to face these sort of things in an environment that is supposed to be loving and accepting.”
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Nia said a meeting was called between school staff and student leaders on Tuesday. She said there was “threatening” and “negative talk” around the students’ actions.
“I was sitting there and I just thought, this is not what I stand for, I don’t want our students to be treated like this…”
She said she had received an overwhelming amount of support since the posters were put up, and since she stepped down as the school’s cultural leader.
Nia’s mother Ani Cherrington said she thought the school could have facilitated a conversation with the students to find out what they wanted.
“[School management] have gone about things in a way of trying to single out individuals, and the whole divide and conquer thing, as opposed to using this as a learning opportunity to get some really great outcomes.”
She said it made her feel silenced.
In a statement, Marist College Principal Raechelle Taulu said: “Marist College is aware of the concern our young people have about racism in our society and in the world. We stand with them in sharing the rejection of actions and attitudes that are racist and violent.
“We are working with our student leaders to help them share this message with our community, while also recognising that we are governed by policies and procedures. The School Board and Senior Management take any claims of racism seriously and we are reviewing the issues raised with us.
“As always, the wellbeing of our students is our priority and this will be at the forefront of any decisions we make within the guidelines of our policies and Catholic education.”